Had quite the weekend. It included a 23 foot falls, class IV in a playboat, and the biggest thrashing I've experienced to date.
I hooked up with Damian and some mates from Palmy and headed to Napier, in the middle of wine country, to stay at Damian's mom's house. Bright and early on Sunday we headed to the Rangatiki (sp?) to do the Jeff's Joy run. The first drop was pretty easy, but it contained Rocks A and B (inventive Kiwis), both sieves that have killed people before. Apparantly one of the bodies required a helicopter extraction; the river had that much pull. Anyway, the moves were easy, and we moved on to Fantail Falls and Jeff's Joy. Combined, they make up most N. Island boaters' first class IV. A few of the paddlers in the group walked it; I ran it in fine style, with one roll and a sweet line on the bottom drop. The drop was apparantly named after a tire tuber, Jeff, who took a hell of a beating on Fantail and ran the second drop unconscious and underwater. His mates revived him, and then named the drop after him. Long live Jeff.
The rest of the run was a lot of III-II+ boulder garden work; fun stuff, lots of rock dodging and route finding.
Then we crashed with a big group of people at Damian's father's house near Rotoroua. Had a huge dinner and a few drinks and then went off to bed.
Sunday brought the Kaituna. It's a series of not-so-big to really big drops in a short, steep canyon. It's rafted quite a bit, and includes Okre Falls, the highest commercially rafted drop in the southern hemisphere. After scouting the big drops (including the Weir, a munchy looking pourover) and watching a few people run it I was ready. I geared up, warmed up on the slalom course, and followed Aaron and Damian into the canyon.
The first couple drops were cake, III-ish, but I was a bit nervous in my little Rad. Then came the Powerhouse, a 10 footer that dropped into a boiling pool directly above the Weir. We all ran it clean, and Aaron dropped over the Weir. I followed; the line was a hard right and a boof into the river-right eddy. I didn't have quite enough speed, and though I made it to the eddy my tail caught on the pourover. I flipped, and as I set to roll I thought I wonder if it's going to suck me into the hole? Then I got hit from the side with a ton of water. I tried to roll against the grain once or twice, then switched sides and got half a breath before getting pushed back under. I reached for the green water, then set up for a big roll as I was running short on air. Then my knee punched through my skirt.
I resurfaced on the corner of the hole, holding my paddle. Damian yelled "grab my boat" and I made one swipe at his grab loop before the hole grabbed me. It shoved me to the center, and then the green water pushed me deep. Way deep. It was the proverbial green room (someone said the river was way deep at this point, 40ft+). I must have been 20 or 25 feet down. I could dimly hear the drop, but for the most part it was real quiet. I swam towards the surface slowly, realizing that if I tried to get up to fast I could get sucked back in. Eventually I started to panic, running low on air, and I clawed my way to the surface. I broke through and sucked in the sweet, sweet air. "You're alive!" yelled Damian, and ferried me to shore as Aaron corraled my boat. I was reunited with my gear, a bit shaky, but I realized that the Weir was the scariest drop (to me) and that I had made it through the tough stuff.
We then dropped through Okre falls. Things went fast from the lip as the water dropped away. My line wasn't ideal but it was close enough, glancing off the boil and carrying away from the main curtain. I slipped into a seam next to the boil and flipped, but rolled up well downstream of the ugly stuff. We then carried on through the rest of the canyon, mainly class III drops with one scary one, The Abyss. It was an easy-ish move through a hole, but if you stuffed it up you ended up in a gaping, undercut cave. We finished at the Kaituna Hole, a world-class playspot, and then headed out to grab some lunch.
The afternoon featured a trip in a Topo Duo (a 2 person kayak; Damian was practicing to run commercial trips down the river in the summer). I was in front, which was weird, as I had little control over the boat and had to let Damian do most of the paddling and all of the edging. We made it through the canyon in fine style, rolling once (I had to ditch my paddle and grab the boat so he could roll us) and running solid lines. Then it was time to pack up the van and head home.
As we headed home I reflected on the fact that I started paddling a year ago this month. I've come quite a ways from learning to surf on the Vermillion at 50 cfs with Dennis to running a 23 footer (by far my biggest drop to date) in New Zealand.
Paddling is fun.